A study conducted at the University of Stanford has reported that mindfulness-based stress reduction has changed the brain activity associated with emotional regulation in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Social Anxiety Disorder is characterised by attentional biases, emotional distortion and increased levels of negative self beliefs. Mindfulness meditation aims to calm and regulate emotional reactivity and regulate attention.
Researchers examined the effects of an 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction course on the brain-behaviour mechanisms of attention regulation to negative self-beliefs and emotional reactivity in 16 patients diagnosed with social anxiety disorder.
Each participant was asked to consider negative self beliefs such as “I am ashamed of my shyness” and had to practice their recently learnt mindfulness practice of shifting attention to their breath. They were also asked to report how negative they felt in response to the statement. At the same time the patient’s neural activity was examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Compared to before the MBSR program, patents showed reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms and had a higher self-esteem. Participants also demonstrated reduced negative emotional experiences and had increased neural activity in regions of the brain related to attention, this was reported to diminish avoidance behaviours and reduce emotional reactivity associated with negative self-beliefs.